A New Expat In St Louis

(Welcome! This is my first post here on Expat Focus, so I thought I’d start with a look at some of the things I’ve noticed since being a resident in America.)

When I first moved here to St Louis from the United Kingdom almost 3 years ago, I was constantly being asked where I was from, my accent being a real giveaway that I’m not originally from the Mid-West. To most people over here, my accent is an interesting thing, and I can totally understand that, and for most of the time it’s actually quite a useful conversation starter.

Only occasionally is it a hindrance, but I do recall one time when I was in a store and asked an assistant for help in finding a particular item. Rather than trying to help, they were so enthralled by my accent that they stopped what they were doing and started grilling me on all things British!I eventually managed to get away and found my goods by myself.

Most of the time, though, the interest is more balanced, although “Is it always raining there” is a perennial question that I’m asked.

I did find it hard to answer that at first, because, of course it’s not literally always raining. England, particularly the East Coast where I lived before moving here, gets a lot of sunny weather along with a lot of rain. But what England doesn’t normally have is the long stretches of total absence of rain that is normal here. The local weather forecast for the St Louis area can say 0% chance of rain for days on end, and that is hardly ever seen in England. And when it is seen it causes drought alerts.

The other aspect is that most of the time the rain I experienced back in the UK was soft and gentle. Oh yes, there were storms, but mostly we had maybe a centimeter or so (say half an inch) of rain over the course of a day or two. Here it is quite common to get two inches of rain (5 cm) in a storm lasting 20 minutes, and then nothing more for days on end.

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At the other extreme, my first summer here was marked by 3 weeks of over 100 degree Fahrenheit (38 Celsius). It was impossible to go outside for any amount of time without becoming a dripping mess, and I got to really appreciate the air-conditioning that was in evidence everywhere I went. That sort of heat is draining, and dangerous to anyone not prepared for it.

Talking about being prepared, one day when I was new to the city and was outside cleaning the porch there started a loud wailing sound. I had no idea what it was or what to do, but it seemed to go on for ages. Looking around I saw that no one else seemed in the least concerned, they were just carring on as if this was perfectly normal. Only when it stopped, and an announcement was made that it was the monthly test of the Tornado Warning system did I realize what I had just witnessed. We are lucky, I guess, that the siren is so close to our house, but that morning I was too shocked even to be scared.

The first time the siren went off at 2 in the morning I was jolted awake and rushed to get into the basement until the all clear was given. A lot of my Missouri friends are much more sanguine about the alarms. They have grown up with them and know that they are part of life around here, but each time I hear them I’m still apprehensive.

Another question I’m asked a lot is about driving – what is it like to drive on the other side of the road?

This is an interesting one because driving is one of those things that you do more by instinct than you might imagine. For some unexplained reason, it helped me at first to wear my watch on the other wrist when I was driving. Something about the wrongness of it helped to keep me conscious of what side of the road was what.

Driving on an Interstate is relatively easy, as it hardly matters what side of the road you are driving on, you just follow the other traffic. Similarly with most busy thoroughfares, once you get over the initial shock of being on the “wrong” side, you just follow the other road users and keep to one lane. The real issues start to come when the road is narrow and empty. I will round a corner and see a car coming towards me in the middle of the road, and I have to remember which side to go to. Even worse are areas which don’t have specific lanes, like parking lots. Here I have to really think which side to pass another car maneuvering out of a parking space because what my instinct tells me is often wrong.

All of this is getting better, and it will continue to do so, I’m sure. Living here is an adventure, and I’m looking forward to sharing more of it in months to come.

Derek was raised on the UK's South Coast, and has lived in London, England, Edinburgh, Scotland, and the East Anglia region of England. He is now a resident of St Louis, Missouri, USA. He is an author and blogger, and you can also follow Derek's adventures on his blog and Facebook page.

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